Agency’s old ways could be costly
The state might be losing more than $140,000 a year in uncharged fees for services provided by its agency that records land sales, state Auditor Marion Higa told a legislative committee yesterday.
The state could be losing the money because of inconsistent and outdated fees charged to title companies and others who subscribe to services that make bureau documents available more quickly than they are given to the public.
On the other hand, the bureau's operations are so behind it could be charging private title companies for services it is not rendering, suggested state Rep. Cynthia Thielen (R, Kailua), a member of the legislative committee investigation the bureau's operations.
At the seventh meeting yesterday of the Joint Senate-House Investigative Committee on the Bureau of Conveyances, Higa reviewed questionable practices raised in the first six hearings, including:
» No contracts with subscribers to those services.
» No maintenance contract with the private business, the Lange Group, that operates the bureau's computer system.
» Little bureau oversight of the Lange Group's use of its access to bureau computers.
» Bureau documents containing personal information potentially being used in identity fraud.
» No contract with the private firm Title Guaranty for software and services it donated to assist the bureau in providing the subscriber service information.
» No assurance that unauthorized software was not attached to a computer providing the subscriber service.
» The bureau remains about six weeks behind in indexing documents filed with it and months behind in certifying documents filed with its Land Court branch.
» The bureau has no policies for cash-handling.
Higa and her staff are aiding the panel in trying to figure out operational problems at the bureau and how they might be fixed by legislation.
Meanwhile, the state attorney general is investigating allegations of criminal activity at the bureau, and the state Ethics Commission is investigating allegations of ethics violations.
The committee expects to meet four times in September, probably beginning on Sept. 13, said Sen. Jill Tokuda (D, Kaneohe), co-chairwoman.
The committee expects to subpoena four officers of Title Guaranty, the state's largest title company, and representatives of the Hawaii Land and Title Association and Island Title Corp.
There appear to be serious concerns about the bureau's operations and effectiveness, Higa told the committee. But a full picture of what is going on there will not emerge until representatives of the bureau's administration testify before the committee, she said, as well as of title companies, real estate, banking and other bureau users.